Mystery Spot (CFF) Wanders Aimlessly into Nowhere
Title: Mystery Spot
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Mel House
Writer: Mel House
Runtime: 111 Minutes
Starring: Graham Skipper, Lisa Wilcox, Bobby Simpson II
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival in 2022.
Rachel (Lisa Wilcox) finds herself in the middle of nowhere attracted to the hotels surrounding the Mystery Spot, a burnt down tourist attraction. There she meets the chipper Max (Lyle Kanouse) the owner of the motel who is grieving the loss of his husband, whom other characters believe may or may not have died under malicious circumstances. She also meets Nathan (Graham Skipper), a man who runs auditions for a production company out of his motel room for roles and movies he does not know. Also there is Leon (Bobby Simpson II), a police officer investigating a string of mysterious disappearances that all lead back to the locale. Soon these characters and more will learn about the strange, confusing, and deadly properties of the Mystery Spot.
A slow-burn indie horror drama that never finds its footing, Mystery Spot confounds with its plodding script.
From the beginning, Mystery Spot establishes itself as a quaint, low budget indie film with no apologies for its limitations. Combining its offbeat premise with a stretched-out runtime, it culminates in an endurance test for those expecting something more grandiose with its admittedly intriguing premise. Unfortunately, the musings of tortured souls in an ordinary motel and a burnt down shack doesn’t make for as engaging of a film as it could be.
It posits that grief and other torturous emotions comes with a release found only in acceptance. Loss bogs down humans as they wander through life and eventually find themselves in places like Mystery Spot. The message gets muddled in the corny dialogue and cliché revelations that pile up as the film ends. Grief is complicated and it is nice to see that Mystery Spot doesn’t offer definite answers on what handling it appropriately means.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect of Mystery Spot is how unsatisfying the reveals are throughout the film. Boasting quite a few puzzles for viewers and plenty of red herrings, as the film goes on, it gets less exciting. Leads are expelled and some actions are never quite addressed appropriately. The mechanics of why and how don’t need to be spelled out but some more clues would be helpful in understanding minutiae like possessed toys and the timelines of people wandering into its path
Wilcox and Skipper do their best to bring the lifeless script some punch. Their screen presence outstrips their castmates, but the majority of the cast has to ham up their acting chops for their auditions, so it is forgivable in a sense. Thankfully, these two share many scenes together. Grappling with their own personal demons, they both bring a human and grounded approach to their respective griefs. Skipper is particularly affecting but the material makes it difficult to connect with his experience.
Despite its limitations, Mystery Spot tries to add some dynamics to its filmmaking. Making use of a variety of techniques the filmmakers give some depth to the production that is oftentimes overrun with brightness from the natural sunlight. It feels raw and real, which is interesting given its supernatural stakes. It’s a slow and somber film, so its approach to filmmaking gives a more raw depiction of these real emotions.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much to be scared by in this indie horror film, but there is some substance amidst the rubble. Unexpectedly strong performances by Skipper and Wilcox help anchor the film’s bloated runtime and wandering script. Clearly shot on a budget, Mystery Spot makes the most of its main location and tries to drum up a feeling of tension. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all work in the end, as characters muse on life and death while trying to uncover the mysteries behind the motel. For folks who have seen everything else, Mystery Spot may not be the worst place to visit, but certainly there are better attractions to invest your time.
Overall Score? 4/10